Distinctives, Vol. II, No. 3;
One of the
ongoing controversies between dispensationalists and non-dispensationalists
revolves around what the church has historically believed or not believed on
issues relating to dispensationalism.
One of the major lines of, attacks commonly employed by opponents of
dispensationalism is to say that the system of theology is so new and unique
that it cannot be Biblical or it would have developed earlier. Most dispensationalists have replied,
like Martin Luther did to the Roman Church, that the issue should be settled on
the basis of exegesis and what the Bible teaches, not what the church has
historically believed. For
example, dispensationalist Dr. Charles Ryrie has noted, "After all, the
ultimate question is not, Is dispensationalism- or any other teaching- historic?
but, Is it Scriptural? Most opponents of dispensationalism realize that this is
the issue, but they still persist in using the historical argument with its fallacious
implications." (Dispensationalism Today (Moody Press,
ALAN BOYD AND DALLAS SEMINARY
Those who have been following the debate know
that those within the Domionist camp have been especially critical of
dispensationalism, since our theology is the opposite of their "victorious
Reconstructionists have attempted to weaken the commonly held view from
virtually every quarter of scholarship which recognizes that the post-apostolic
church was largely Chiliastic (premillennial). One of the sources being used the last few years by Reconstructionists
(and a few others) in their attempt to give a black eye to dispensationalism
has been a Master of Theology thesis from Dallas Theological Seminary.
has usually been thought of as the world center for dispensationalism. In 1977, Canadian Alan Patrick Boyd
wrote a ThM thesis for the Historical Theology Department called "A
Dispensational Premillennial Analysis of the Eschatology of the Post-Apostolic
Fathers (Until the Death of Justin Martyr)." 1977 was also the year I
entered Dallas Seminary, where I too majored in Historical Theology under Dr.
Edwin C. Deibler and Dr. John D. Hannah, who were the graders of Boyd's thesis.
Reconstructionists believe that they have a tool from inside the dispensational
womb which disproves our basic contention that the early church was primarily
Chiliastic for about the first
200-300 years of her existence.
THE TRUTH ABOUT "BOY, O, BOYD!"
Reconstructionist friend and adversary Dr. Ken Gentry has been producing a
series of articles about Boyd's thesis entitled "Boy, O, Boyd!" for
the Gary North supported publication Dispensationalism in Transition (V:8; Aug. 1992), which is in its fifth year of
blasting the theology they most love to hate- dispensationalism. Included in Gentry's background on
Boyd's thesis is a reference to a phone call I made to him last year about my
phone conversations with Alan Boyd concerning his thesis, who is currently a
pastor in Canada. I informed
Gentry that I had sent Boyd copies of the material that Reconstructionists had
written using his thesis. Boyd
wondered if they had really read through his entire thesis since he thought
that they had misunderstood what he had said. He felt that they had used his material improperly to argue
that the early church was not significantly Chiliastic. Boyd told me on the phone that the
early church was Chiliastic, but did not reflect a dispensational brand of
premillennialism and this was his point in his thesis. I then commented to Gentry that I
thought this was especially significant in light of the fact that Boyd said he
was not longer a dispensationalist and had become posttrib, but still a
premillennialist, since he wrote his thesis 15 years ago.
Gentry wrote in
his article that Boyd was still a dispensationalist and said, "According
to Tommy Ice, he [Boyd] remains a dispensationalist to this day." As just
noted above, I actually said exactly the opposite. This statement provoked me to call Gentry and find out why
he had misrepresented me. When I
told Ken that he was mistaken on that point in his article, he said he did not
know why he misunderstood, but would correct the mistake in a future
article. We discussed Boyd's
thesis further and told Ken that I thought he was misusing Boyd's material by
overstating the case against the premillennialism of the early church.
that Gentry got wrong from our phone conversation was related to Boyd's
attitude toward Reconstructionist use of his thesis. Gentry said, "Frankly, I was astonished when I heard
that Boyd was surprised that his work was being employed against
dispensationalism. What in the
world did he expect?" I did
not tell Gentry that Boyd was astonished over their use of his thesis, instead
I told Gentry that Boyd seemed to be somewhat surprised that his thesis had
become a center of controversy, not that it was being used by them. Gentry then said, "According to
Ice, Boyd feels that his arguments have been taken out of context and wrongly
employed in anti-dispensational polemics." Once again, that is not what I said or even implied. Boyd thought that Reconstructionists
had misapplied his material in relationship to the broader issue of the extent
and nature of the early church's premillennialism, not dispensationalism. Apparently Gentry's basic
misunderstanding about Boyd's current relationship to dispensationalism has
contributed to further error in his understanding of what I had told him about
Boyd's reaction of Reconstructionist use of his thesis.
WAS THE EARLY CHURCH AMILLENNIAL?
One of the major
quotes used by Reconstructionists from Boyd's thesis which has led to confusion
about what Boyd is saying is a footnote from his conclusion. Boyd recommends that dispensationalists
pursue five things in the future in the area of early church studies as it
relates to eschatology. His third
suggestion was that we need to do more direct study of the early church fathers
and their interpretation of prophecy.
In that light he said, "And thus avoid reliance on men like Geo. N.
H. Peters, . . . whose historical conclusions regarding premillennialism . . .
in the early church have been proven to be largely in error. Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Hermas,
Ignatius, Polycarp, and Hegesippus can not be claimed as premillennialists.
This validates the claim of L. Berkhof, The History of Christian Doctrines, (1937; reprinted., Edinburgh: The Banner of
Truth Trust, 1969), p. 262, '. . . it is not correct to say, as Premillenarians
do, that it (millennialism) was generally accepted in the first three centuries. The truth of the matter is that the adherents of this
doctrine were a rather limited number.'
On the other hand, this invalidates the claim of premillennialists like
John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question, p. 137, 'The early church was far from settled on
details of eschatology though definitely premillennial.'" (Italics mine). (92)
This is why
Reconstructionists like Gary DeMar use Boyd to give his readers the impression
that while there was some premillennialism in the early church, it was not
widespread, and he seems to suggest that amillennialism was really the more
widespread view of the ancient church, which is not the case at all. DeMar writes in The Debate Over
Christian Reconstruction (a book
written as a sentence by sentence rebuttal to a live debate he had with Dave
Hunt and I in 1988) that Boyd said, "So then, it's amillennialism that shows up in the early church"
(96). DeMar goes on to declare,
building upon his reading of Boyd, "Where, then is the historical evidence
for premillennialism? What was once considered insurmountable evidence, has now
turned out to be scant evidence" (97).
It is interesting
that when I looked at the full Berkhof quote cited by Boyd and delighted in by
DeMar, that Berkhof's list of patristic (i.e., early church fathers)
premillennialists is longer than Boyd's.
This raises a question about Boyd's basis for evaluating the fathers
which will be dealt with in our next issue. Boyd concluded that "Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Hermas,
Ignatius, Polycarp, and Hegesippus can not be claimed as
However, Berkhof, whom Boyd is quoting in agreement, includes Barnabas
and Hermas as patristic premillenarians.
Upon reading the full text of Berkhof on this matter, he does not seem
to be saying that the majority view of the early church was not premillennial,
but that modern premillennialists have overstated their case as to the full
extent of early premillennialism.
One thing can be said with certainty, and that is that the early church
certainly was not amillennial,
as DeMar implies.
No wonder Boyd
told me in our phone conversation that Reconstructionists had misused his
thesis. Boyd is not saying that
the early church was not Chiliastic or premillennial, instead the thrust of his
thesis was to say that they were not like the modern or dispensational
premillennialists; but that while still Chiliastic, the seeds of, not
dispensationalism, but amillennialism are found in the fathers.
"It is the
present conviction of this writer that there was a rapid departure from New
Testament eschatological truth in the early patristic period. Therefore, it warrants the writer
little concern that there are no roots of dispensational premillennialism in
that period, but instead the roots of both post-tribulationism and amillennialism. The roots of dispensational premillennialism are
Scriptural, and the most one could hope to find in the early patristic period
would be some remnants of it (as this thesis demonstrates there are). Similarly, it warrants little concern
that there is evident post-tribulationism and seminal amillennialism in these
patristic writings. A rapid
departure from New Testament eschatological truth would account for this
purpose of Boyd in his thesis was "to determine whether Dr. Ryrie's
'premillennialism' is similar to, or dissimilar to, the premillennialism
exhibited in some of the patristic writings under consideration" (2). Boyd's very statement presumes that the
early church was premillennial.
What Boyd was doing in his thesis was comparing the modern system of
dispensationalism premillennialism with patristic premillennialism to see how
similar the two brands of premillennialism were. Boyd concluded, not that the early church was not premillennial,
but that early church did not have much in common with modern or dispensational
premillennialism as represented by Dr. Ryrie and others.
In our next issue
I will pursue this matter further.
Distinctives, Vol. II, No. 4;
P. Boyd, Premillennialism, and the Post-Apostolic Fathers, Part II"
In this article I
am continuing interaction with Reconstructionist use of Alan P. Boyd's "A
Dispensational Premillennial Analysis of the Post Apostolic Fathers (Until the
Death of Justin Martyr)," which was his 1977 Master of Theology thesis at
Dallas Theological Seminary. While
I am in basic agreement with Boyd's work, I do agree with Reconstructionist Ken
Gentry that it is "not without its flaws (e.g., occasional scanty treatment and presumptive
conclusions)" ("Boy, O, Boyd!" in Dispensationalism in
Transition (V:8; Aug. 1992):1).
SOME PROBLEMS WITH BOYD'S WORK
It must be kept
in mind that the purpose of Boyd's thesis was to compare modern dispensational
premillennialism with ancient premillennialism to see if there is a basis for
similarity. Boyd was correct to
conclude that there were not many similarities. However, in his zeal to demonstrate his point I think that
he sometimes gave the benefit of the doubt away from dispensationalism and
premillennialism. Boyd has accused
dispensational premils of not distinguishing between modern premillennialism
and ancient forms when they do historical surveys of the fathers. This is often true, but we also must
keep in mind that most of the time when modern premils are surveying the
ancients they are merely attempting to discover who is a premil, regardless of
what kind of premillennialism they happen to hold.
In our book Dominion
Theology: Blessing or Curse?, we were mainly dealing with the issue of
premillennialism vs. postmillennialism, not dispensationalism per se. However, our critics wanted to discuss what kind
of premillennialism was present or absent in the early church, which was not
the issue for us. We also wanted
to show that futurism was also widespread, although undeveloped, in opposition
to the preterism of many Reconstructionists. However, they wanted to discuss the issue of
dispensationalism in their rebuttals.
This is something that Boyd could have noted more clearly in his
thesis: that the early church,
when they spoke, was basically premil.
This Boyd admitted to me in our phone conversation. Reconstructionists should keep in mind
that regardless of how different and advanced in many areas dispensationalism
is from primitive formulations of premillennialism, both are still
premillennial. That is something
that dispensationalists have in common with early Chiliasm. Anti-dispensationalist, John Gerstner,
has correctly said, "All do agree, however, that you cannot have
Dispensationalism without premillennialism. Therefore, the presence of premillennialism admits the
possibility of the presence of Dispensationalism. Conversely, the absence of
premillennialism almost proves the absence of Dispensationalism." (Wrongly
Dividing The Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism (Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991):8)
that Boyd used to determine who was a premil and who was not is likely too
strict to yield a true and complete picture of the patristic fathers. As noted in the previous issue of Dispensational
Distinctives, anti-premil scholar, Louis Berkhof, concluded
that at least two of those classified as not being premils by Boyd were called
premil by Berkhof. Those two were
the Epistle of Barnabas and Hermas.
Here is a difference in judgment.
W.G.T. Shedd, who is distinctly anti-premillennial also includes
Barnabas and Hermas as ones who "exhibit in their writings distinct traces
of this doctrine [i.e., premillennialism]"
(A History of Christian Doctrine (Charles
I think Boyd's
criterion that an early church father has to say something explicitly
premillennial, or he was not premillennial is too narrow. I think that this is reasonable in
light of the fact that so many others from that period who had an identifiable
eschatology were premil. When this
is combined with the fact that there are no specific examples of a clear and
distinct amillennialism in any of the other fathers, then why would it be
unreasonable to think that most of the others should not be classified as
premil because they do not have explicitly clear statements?
could be further supported by Justin Martyr's statement in his Dialogue with
Trypho the Jew when he was
addressing the issue of "a thousand years in Jerusalem." Justin says, I admitted to you
formerly, that I and many others are of this opinion, and that such will take
place, as you assuredly are aware; but, on the other hand, I signified to you
that many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think
otherwise" (80). True, this
is a clear admission by Justin that there are many other orthodox Christians of his time who were
not premil. But at the same time
Justin's statement also includes a general confirmation that many others are of his premil faith as well. The problem for non-premillennialists
is that we do not have extant records of statements by many who were not
premil. Anti-premil Shedd also
sees Justin Martyr's statement declaring widespread premillennialism. "So general had the tenant
premillennialism become in the last half of the 2d century, that Justin Martyr
declares that it was the belief of all but the Gnostics" (II:394).
SOME THOUGHTS ON THE RECONSTRUCTIONIST USE OF
First, it must be
kept in mind that Boyd's thesis surveyed a very narrow slice of early church
history consisting of only about 65 years. Had Boyd included the 100 years following Justin Martyr, as
he suggests someone else carry out (91), then it would have revealed a time of
even greater premil dominance.
Shedd notes that "The period between the year 150 and 250 is the
blooming age of Millenarianism; . . . The Millenarian tendency became stronger
as the church began, in the last half of the second century" (II:392-93).
The problem with
some Reconstructionists is that they tend to cite Boyd's work, which only
covered a relatively short period of early church history, and then make
characterizations of the overall early church period. Gary DeMar follows this tactic in The Debate Over
Reconstructionists tend to spend much of their
time in the historical debate showing how many of the tenets of
dispensationalism are not found in the early church, and then attempt to argue
that dispensationalism is so different that it should not really belong in the
premillennial family at all.
Dispensationalism, no matter how developed it may be in comparison to
ancient premillennialism, is still premillennialism, and by virtue of that fact
does have continuity with the early church. Further, we argued in our book Dominion Theology, that early church premils also tended to be
futuristic and literal in their interpretation. It is modern premillennialism or dispensationalism that has
developed a consistent use of
the literal and futuristic hermeneutic.
Because early premillennialism was not consistent, even though these
feature were present, helps explains why it eventually broke down into
amillennialism. This is the whole
point of dispensational premillennialism:
that we have attempted to pursue a consistently literal and futuristic hermeneutic, especially as
it relates to God's plan for Israel and for His church. I completely agree with Boyd that the
"majority of the writers/writings in this period completely identify
Israel with the Church" (47).
I further agree when he says that "this thesis would conclude that
the eschatological beliefs of the period studied would be generally inimical [i.e.,
unfriendly, TDIl to those of the
modern system (perhaps, seminal amillennialism, and not nascent dispensational
premillennialism ought to be seen in the eschatology of the period)."
The fact that the
early church's brand of premillennialism was at too many points inconsistent
with the later developed logic and theology of premillennialism explains the
decline of premillennialism into amillennialism. The seeds of replacement theology within the
premillennialism of the early church eventually bore, not only the fruit of
anti-Semitism, but of full blown amillennialism. However, even though the ground of early premillennialism
was soft, it still cannot be denied that the early church was indeed
predominately premillennial. They
certainly were not amillennial, even though the seeds of amillennialism were
Boyd's thesis can show us as dispensationalists
some important things. One of
those lessons would be the Reformation principles of Scripture as the sole
authority in determining truth; and the Reformation belief in an ever reforming
church. It is nice to have the
antiquity of church history on our side, and we do in the area of
premillennialism. However, it is
of sole importance to have the authority of God's Word supporting our
beliefs. I believe that this is
what we have when it comes to the matter of dispensationalism. Dispensationalists have, over the
years, majored in Bible exposition and not historical theology. This likely explains why our theology
has attracted so many Bible believing Christians the last few hundred years.
Boyd sums up our
history and a proper response when he says: This writer believes that the
Church rapidly fell from New
Testament truth, and this is very evident in the realm of eschatology. Only in
modern times has New Testament eschatological truth been recovered.
Dispensational premillennialism is the product of the post-Reformation progress
of dogma . Any dispute that it has with other modern eschatological systems
must be settled on the ground s of Biblical truth and not historical precedent.
Boyd's thesis demonstrates is the historical validity of John Walvoord's
analysis of where systems of theology lead. He used to tell us in class while I was a student under him
at Dallas Seminary, that there are ultimately two consistent systems of
eschatology: amillennialism and
dispensational, pretrib, premillennialism. All other systems were inconsistent blends of the two basic
systems. Boyd's historical
evaluation that the premillennialism of the early church contained "the roots of both
post-tribulationism and amillennialism" (Preface) support Walvoord. I would contend that because the
premillennialism of the early church was not dispensational; since it mixed
Israel and the church and was posttrib, then we should not be surprised to see
it collapsing over a period of time into amillennialism.
I have seen the
truth of Dr. Walvoord's observation work in the lives of many thinking
Christians, who have backed off from dispensational distinctions into
posttribulationism and then into amillennialism. I have also seen it go the other way, as an amillennialist
starts taking God's plan for Israel literal ending up in the dispensational
fold. Scripture is our only
authority for building our faith, but knowing the church's history helps to show
us where our beliefs will lead us.